Thu | Jul 29, 2021

Editorial | What’s the problem with the PM’s integrity filing?

Published:Thursday | July 25, 2019 | 12:00 AM

We are encouraged that the Integrity Commission acted on our admonition to, as required by law, publish forthwith the integrity filings of Jamaica’s top political leaders, although it didn’t completely fulfil its obligation. Now, it needs to give Jamaicans the reason why the summary of the assets and liability filings of the prime minister (PM) wasn’t made public.

For the absence of his information, if he met his responsibilities, would be a major disservice to Andrew Holness, suggesting, as it would, that he didn’t file his report in time, or that for the second year running, the commission felt his filings to be inadequate, to the point that they couldn’t be ‘cleared’. That situation, if prolonged, or unless the delay is an error on the part of the commission, or it is that the outstanding questions relate to minor technical matters, undermines the prime minister’s authority to speak on issues of integrity and public corruption.

Under Jamaica’s new integrity law, which came into force in 2018, legislators and selected public officials are required to file annual income, assets and liability statements for each calendar year. These declarations are due by March of the following year and the Integrity Commission is, by the end of June, or the close of the first quarter of fiscal year – unless the time is extended – required to send to Parliament a report of its activities for the preceding year.

With regard to the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition – in this case, Mr Holness and Peter Phillips, respectively – the law, at Section 42 (3) (b), also stipulates that once the agency’s director of information and complaints has examined their filings and “is satisfied that the statutory declaration has been duly completed, he shall so inform the commission”, who shall cause summaries of the declarations to be published in the Gazette, in accordance with the format set out in the legislation.

Last week, a summary of Dr Phillips’ filing, showing that he and his wife, corporate lawyer Sandra Minott-Philips, reported net assets of J$185 million, was published in the Government’s Gazette as well as last Saturday’s edition of this newspaper. Thus far, no summary of Mr Holness’ declaration has been published and there has been no statement, from either himself or the Integrity Commission, about the status of the PM’s filings. Neither has there been any information on the status of declarations by his wife, Juliet Holness, who is also a member of parliament (MP), including whether they made a joint filing.

In its report to Parliament, dated July 9, the Integrity Commission indicated that of the 87 declarations due from legislators, 69, or 73 per cent, were filed within the deadline. Seventeen were late. But at the time of the report, only a single declaration was outstanding.

Unlike in previous reports, however, the commission doesn’t disclose which parliamentarian filed late and when they failed. So, conceivably, Prime Minister Holness’ declaration could have been the outstanding one at the time the report was sent to Parliament, in which event it probably wouldn’t have been available for a summary to be published. The greater likelihood is that the absence represents an ongoing dispute between the prime minister and the Integrity Commission over the adequacy of his latest integrity filings.

‘Not cleared’ declarations

Indeed, in its 2017 report sent to Parliament in April, two years after the period it covers, Mr Holness was named among eight MPs whose declarations were examined “but not cleared”. In response to a commissioner’s assertion at a press conference in May that the PM’s status remained the same, spokespersons for Mr Holness said that he had answered all questions relating to his 2017 filing and that the commission had confirmed the receipt of the information.

The new format of the Integrity Commission doesn’t indicate either way. However, given the commission’s failure up to now to publish a summary of his 2018 report, it is not unreasonable to question whether there was trouble with that one, too. Such speculation is not good for the prime minister’s authority as head of Government. Neither does it do anything good for the commission, whose efficiency is likely to be enhanced if it has the confidence and trust of the public, which it is more likely to get if it is seen to be transparent. Mr Holness, too, has an obligation to clear the air.